When teaching English to young French students, you may experience some difficulties that don’t happen with older children or adults. That’s why it’s important to adapt your teaching style to suit younger children in order to help them learn as much as they can.
After all, it’s easier to learn new languages at a young age rather than as an adult, as children are built for absorbing information and processing new skills (more information on how language learning in children works on this blog). Don’t worry if you’re confused or overwhelmed about how to do this. This blog is here to help you along.
What are some of the challenges of teaching English to younger students?
- Restlessness: Young children may find it hard to sit still for a long time and are unlikely to give the teacher their full attention for longer periods of time. They are also less likely to follow the unwritten rules of the classroom, like sitting in their seat for the whole lesson, putting up their hands to speak, etc.
- Disinterest: Unlike teens and adults, young children may see little reason to learn English, particularly if the people around them speak French and the media they consume is created or dubbed in French. They’re not thinking about the future job market or future travels and that’s totally okay.
- Strong emotions: Often we associate getting emotional with teenagers, but small children are still learning how to manage their feelings and may not always be in complete control of their emotions. As a result, they may be more likely to drift off or disrupt the lesson.
How can we mitigate these challenges?
Write down the rules
If you have specific rules for your classroom, write them down on a poster that you display on the wall, and go over them with students before your first class. This will help to cement the rules in the minds of the children.
Encourage everyone to contribute
Some children will be shy about talking in class, particularly in front of their peers. Encourage everyone to contribute without making them uncomfortable through methods like these:
- Have pupils construct role plays that are appropriate to their skill level, so that they aren’t put on the spot. This means they are less likely to make a mistake that could embarrass them and put them off speaking up in future. Simple theatre plays are great for this, as are dialogues with 2 or 3 speakers.
- Allow your students to work on speaking in pairs or small groups, rather than in front of the whole class. If you do this in a setting they understand and appreciate (like going into a store and buying candy) they can have fun doing it -and so will you.
- Get your class to explore alternative methods of speaking, for instance creating a short English-language podcast on a topic that they enjoy or talking via video chat. Sometimes, it's not the talking, but the face-to-face talking, or speaking in front of a group that is the problem.
Check in with your students
Speak to students before you start teaching them English to see if they have any issues that might come up during class so that you can find workarounds if you need to. It might be good to tell them about a time that you found it difficult to learn something, as this will not only show them that certain challenges are normal, but also that they can be overcome.
It’s also important to watch out for children who might not be comfortable expressing the difficulties that they have. Try to talk to their parents and find out if there are any particular areas that the student needs help with.
A rewards system
Young children may be incentivised to learn English in the same way that adults do for other subjects or even to get children to do chores. Have them complete activities in order to get a reward.
A good way to break it down is to give stickers for smaller tasks, like learning how to ask a new question in English, and then a certain amount of stickers can be traded in for an appropriate reward, like being given an hour of screen time to watch an English film or getting a new English children’s book.
Don’t focus on failure
Small children are particularly prone to small mistakes, even after being corrected a few times. It won’t do to dwell on what they got wrong, as that might hurt their confidence and could put them off learning English. Instead, celebrate what they get right and give positive reinforcement, so that they are nudged in the right direction.
Lots of short and varied activities
Children have much shorter attention spans and no matter how fun the activity, they’ll get bored if they are just doing one thing for too long. Depending on the age of the student, keep activities to between ten and 20 minutes.
It’s also important to vary what you have the cdildren do so that two separate activities don’t run into each other. This might mean doing one speaking activity, then a written one, then an active one.
Make learning fun
Everyone learns better when they are having fun and getting involved, but this is especially important for young children who are much more likely to be kinaesthetic learners, rather than audio or visual. This means that you can plan little games or activities appropriate for their age group that will help them learn English without realising it. The challenges mentioned earlier, restlessness, disinterest and strong emotions, can become great starting points for an English lesson rather than something to overcome before getting to the teaching.
If you’re looking for some suggestions, we’ve got some tried and tested ones below.
- Word games: There are some fantastic games that will help to improve vocabulary while keeping them engaged. Try Scrabble and Boggle to help them form words or Pictionary and Charades to help them link images or actions to words.
- Treasure hunt: All children like pretending to be pirates, particularly if there’s a prize at the end. What you’ll do is create little clues in English for your class to decode in order to lead them to the X that marks the spot. For more on how to create a treasure hunt read the following blog.
- Art projects: Everybody loves creating and there’s a lot of evidence that stimulating the creative region of the brain can help a child to learn quicker. Try asking them to draw something specific to test their knowledge of English words or allow them to choose what to make, but keep talking to them about it. Some good questions include: What are you making? What do you want to use to create it; i.e. pencils, paint, clay? What colour are you going to paint it?
- Get active: Kids always have lots of energy, which can make it hard for them to keep still. Burn off that energy and get them to learn at the same time by doing a game like Simon Says. Here you can help kids learn their body parts in English as well as teaching them action words like “dance,” “jump”, or “clap.” Active songs and rhymes can be found easily on teacher’s blogs online.
- Sing-alongs: Songs always get stuck in our heads, so they are a great mnemonic device for learning new vocabulary. Stick to simple songs that will teach your class what you want them to learn, like 7 Days A Week, the Rainbow Song, or If You’re Happy and You Know It.
Hopefully, this blog has helped you figure out some great ways to help small children learn English. However, the most important things you need is patience, empathy, and a little out-of-the-box thinking, which you’ll find were inside you all along.